Exclusive: XBox Next/Xbox 720 chips in production

Dev kit silicon is moving through the fabs now

xbox360_logoIf you crave more info about the upcoming XBox 720/Next, there is finally some concrete info. The one nice thing about this job is that proud parents like to talk, and that is exactly where this story begins.

If you recall, when we last mentioned the XBox next GPU/GPU/APU chip called Oban, it had just taped out. That was 6 weeks ago or so, and one thing we said in the article was that the devs we queried before that was written all said, “No clue, haven’t heard anything from Microsoft about it yet”. Fair enough, and given the number of them saying the same thing, we rapidly came to the conclusion that there was no info floating. Microsoft had not done any external briefings yet.

So the article went up, and sure enough, in the days between the calls, emails, and door knockings, and when the article went up, MS briefed people. Luckily, Murphy never met Darwin…. Now everyone who should be briefed has been, but no one is talking about it. Darn. That said, they briefed devs almost to the day that the chip taped out, conveniently NDAing them at the same time. Coincidence?

Now for the new stuff. The XBox Next/720 Oban chip is in initial production. Sources at a foundry with a blue logo, confirm that Oban wafers started running in the final days of 2011. Sources on the other side of the continent in Redmond when questioned, said, “Who the f*&$ told you that? I am going to f#*&ing rip someone’s head off”. We at SemiAccurate take this as confirmation that the initial sources were in the right ballpark.

Other sources at Microsoft, conveniently out of head-ripping-off range, said that the initial order was for around 10K wafers, mostly at the aforementioned three letter logo’d company, but a sizeable chunk is being run at Global Foundries too. Again, coincidence? We doubt it.

So, time for a little speculation. Oban is being made by IBM primarily, so that almost definitively puts to bed the idea of an x86 CPU that has been floating. We said we were 99+% sure that the XBox Next/720 is a Power PC CPU plus an ATI GCN/HD7000/Southern Islands GPU, and with this last data point, we are now confident that it is 99.9+%. Why? Several licensing agreements that cover what can be made where will enrich a fleet of lawyers if Oban is x86, but do not preclude the possibility entirely, hence the last .1%.

If you assume the chip is an SoC, and is made on 300mm 32nm SOI wafers, you can come up with a bunch of interesting numbers. Yield on these parts should be pretty high, it is for AMD’s Bulldozer, and those chips run at a much higher speeds on the same process as Oban. If the chip is huge, basically reticle sized at 550-600mm^2, you can expect to get about 100 die candidates per wafer.

With 10K wafers, 100 candidates per, and lowballing yields at 20%, you are looking way way more chips than initially necessary for dev kits. Before you jump up and down about the chances of an XBox 720 under the summer “School’s Out Tree”, these chips are NOT destined for production consoles. You will not get one unless you are in line for a dev kit, or know someone at Microsoft with a penchant for handing out top secret keychains.

This batch, huge though it is, will make the silicon for the initial run of dev kits, and then some. Given the order size, MS seems to be taking no chances on quantity, even Nvidia level yields should provide enough dev kits to go around, so don’t fret if you are in line for one. There will almost assuredly be several revs of Oban before silicon is finalized, that is just the way things are done. The first few of these chips should be coming out of the oven in late February barring any unforeseen problems, so dev kits with real silicon are likely for March, earlier if you are really important.

Sources are still saying to expect silicon production for retail consoles to start late this year, and that guidance won’t change until the first round of volume parts is analyzed late in the quarter. Production for end user consoles isn’t going to start until late 2012, so don’t expect the XBox Next/720 before spring 2013. One thing you can say for sure now is that the console is real now, and the momentum is really picking up.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also available through Guidepoint and Mosaic. FullyAccurate